Benjamin Vogt examines what is at the core of the division and tumult of these times: an inability to process grief. And the pandemic has delivered plenty of it.
After reading one too many comments on social media posts, I’ve come to realize that the issue isn’t whether or not face masks help reduce transmission (they do), but the deeper issue at play here is about processing our grief. This is an emotional issue and I think it needs to be addressed as much, if not more, as sharing peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Many of us don’t have the emotional maturity or skills to recognize and process our grief—and the pandemic has brought grief upon us in spades. It’s too much to work through, especially as the new reality of pandemic living clashes with our sense of self, our sense of order, our sense of who we are, and our ability to create lives that provide us with a sense of safety and predictable normalcy.
Refusing masks or vaccines is about avoiding grief—anger being one of the steps in working through grief, denial another, and negotiation and bargaining yet another. Whenever I hear someone downplay masks or vaccines or blatantly defy new social expectations, I know it’s not that they haven’t read science, it’s that they are having a hard time working through some aspect of grief. They don’t have the tools nor the experience to grieve fully, to see their grief, to embrace it, and to grow from it as empowered individuals. They haven’t been taught how or helped through it in some way.
Whenever I hear someone downplay masks or vaccines or blatantly defy new social expectations, I know … that they are having a hard time working through some aspect of grief.
This is the same case with climate change, which is even more of a challenge for us. The more confused, angry, overwhelmed, and afraid we feel, the more we cling to points of view that seem comforting but are instead toxic and destructive and prevent us from growing. Unfortunately, many social, political, religious, and economic institutions thrive on this inability to grieve (both personally and collectively) and they keep us at each other’s throats so a few can maintain their power over us and continue exploiting us for their own gain.
The entire pandemic has been co-opted blindly as a faux culture war, fueled by our innate animal reaction to fight or flee. We don’t have just two options, though. What we need is a third option: to examine and embrace and even surrender ourselves to the uncertainty of our emotions and see none of them as black or white, right or wrong, but simply as our messy path to becoming healthier members of an ailing world.
This isn’t about masks or vaccines—it’s about having the rug pulled out from under us and realizing we have to adapt faster than perhaps our brains are evolved to do, or perhaps faster than this consumer-based, individualistic culture has trained us for. I need my fear, my anger, my depression, and my bargaining—I need my grief, as you need yours, otherwise, there is no life worth living and no path forward other than more walls, more tribalism, more distrust, more self-destruction, and more making ourselves small.